Reports surfaced on Wednesday that Army Private Chelsea Manning, currently serving a 35-year sentence in a military prison for leaking information to WikiLeaks, is facing new disciplinary charges. According to ACLU attorney Chase Strangio, the whistleblower could face indefinite solitary confinement over the possession of "prohibited materials."
Namely, a tube of expired toothpaste and a copy of Vanity Fair.
A petition posted online only hours after the news broke has already garnered tens of thousands of signatures.
"This sounds like a joke, but it’s not," the petition reads.
But despite the surreal nature of the charges, prison officials plan to carry through with a hearing.
"Inmate Manning received a disciplinary report for alleged rules violations. The case has been processed and is currently pending a Disciplinary and Adjustment Board," army spokesman Tatjana Christian told Newsweek. "Upon its completion, Manning will be informed of the outcome."
Christian also defended the disciplinary charges as being a common occurrence.
"Discipline and adjustment boards are a common practice in correctional systems to hold prisoners accountable to facility rules and adjudicate alleged violations within an administrative process," Christian said.
"The Army remains committed to a fair and equitable process in the adjudication of administrative matters for all of its Soldiers."
The hearing will also be closed to the public, despite Manning’s requests to the contrary.
According to the petition, Manning is facing four separate charges. The first two – Disrespect and Disorderly conduct – relate to July 2 incident in which she was observed "sweeping food onto the floor" which "almost hit" a correctional specialist. When confronted, Manning interrupted the specialist, saying "I want my lawyer." The charges described this as Manning having "conducted [herself] in a contemptuous manner by being disrespectful to the cadre present."
The other two charges relate to contraband found Manning’s cell. During a search, officials found the Vanity Fair issue with Caitlyn Jenner on the cover, an issue of Cosmopolitan which featured an interview with Manning, as well as a few periodicals on transgender studies.
A number of books were also confiscated, including "Hacker, Hoaxer, Whistleblower, Spy – The Many Faces of Anonymous," and a copy of the US Senate torture report.
But the big find was a tube of expired toothpaste. For possession of this item, officials charged the whistleblower with "medicine misuse."
According to the petition, the "maximum charge for these offenses is indefinite solitary confinement."
"This kind of action has the potential to chill Chelsea’s speech and silence her altogether," Strangio told Newsweek. "We are hopeful that the prison will respond by dismissing these charges and ensuring that she is not unfairly targeted based on her activism, her identity or her pending lawsuit."
Army Private Chelsea Manning was sentenced to 35-years in prison after being convicted under the Espionage Act. She is serving her time at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, for providing Wikileaks with data which details instancesof US human rights abuse in Iraq.